Is God Big Enough to Cause a Crisis in Your Life?
Discerning how we see Jesus when we pray
These are bad times to get good at worshiping a small God. As my heart grieves over the deterioration of our culture and the headlong pursuit of godlessness by a growing cross-section of our populace, I fear my prayers for revival and for a powerful demonstration of His presence are raised to a God that my spirit doubts has the chops for the job.
It’s not so much my lack of faith in God, it’s my faith in a God who seems either disinterested or incapable of addressing the issues of our day. How often have you prayed a big, bold audacious prayer only to hear the little voice in the back of your mind say, “yeah, but it’s not going to happen”? Is the problem the size of our faith, or the size of our God?
Perhaps some of the reason God gets small is an over emphasis on his love and grace at the expense of his holiness and power. We like for God to be our buddy, Jesus our best friend, the Holy Spirit our secret pal. Our relationship with our triune God gets cozy, comfortable, casual. God exists for me, to save me and meet my needs, to give me peace and comfort and a hope for the future. Partly scriptural, and fully incomplete. It’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as cheap grace.
I was convicted about how small my God had become when I was preparing for a class I’m teaching in January on the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. The apostle John is exiled to the Isle of Patmos and there has a vision. In it Jesus appears to him. Now we have to remember that Jesus was his best friend. They ministered together, laughed and ate together, faced trials together and more. John was there when Jesus died, encountered him after the resurrection, and stood looking up into the heavens when he was taken in the clouds. John knew Jesus.
Given this we would expect that when Jesus revealed himself to John, it would be a reunion of two old friends. John would throw his arms around Jesus and they would talk about old times, laugh together and renew their friendship. But that’s not what happened. Not even close. It’s worth reading the Scripture very carefully as we consider what it’s really like to stand in the presence of the risen Christ.
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
This was not a reunion with gentle Jesus meek and mild. This was an encounter with the living Christ, and it immediately created a crisis in John’s life. How did he respond?
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though I were dead.
How often do we envision this image of Jesus when we pray? If our image of Jesus has been shaped solely by the descriptions of his love and grace, it may do us well to allow this vision of Jesus to have its place in our prayer life as well. It’s not one or the other, but we live in a tension with regard to our understanding of the nature of the God we love and serve. He is both holy and merciful, righteous and gracious, the Almighty ruler of the universe and lovingly present with us.
The problem for many of us is that we have allowed one side of this tension to dominate our view of God. And as we do, we narrow the scope of his reign to the circumference of our individual lives and limit his power to its application to our personal problems. And our God gets very small.
The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth proclaimed that when sinful man stands in the presence of the holy God, the only response can be a crisis in our spirit. Perhaps we need to experience that crisis anew by seeing God in his absolute power and holiness, His awesome might and His universal reign. Perhaps if we started our prayer life in the reverent fear of the Lord, we might receive more readily the knowledge and wisdom and understanding that is promised from such a posture.
So, while we may take comfort from the image of coming to the garden alone, where Jesus, “walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am His own”, I’d encourage us to balance that vision with the cry of Isaiah when he stood before the Almighty God and exclaimed.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)
If we are to live our lives as stewards of all that God has given us, if He is the rightful and true owner of everything, it will serve us to understand that our call to faithful obedience comes both as grace and favor, but also from the same mouth that sports a double two-edged sword. This is no task for the timid. If you need one last image to cement this in your mind, I will end with John’s description of his peek into heaven from Revelation 4:
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here,and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit,and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, or you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”